The Slate Speaks: YikYak and Internet Anonymity

YikYak is an anonymous commenting app based on location. When you open the app, you are met with comments that have recently been made within a five-mile radius and are able to ‘upvote’ and ‘downvote’ the comments as you see fit. YikYak launched in 2013 in order to, according to its developers, connect students on college campuses through conversation without the fear of labels. 

While you are never asked for your name, the app gives the user an icon and makes their approximate distance from the commenter visible. Before you post, you are reminded to never use anyone’s real name and to keep your words positive, but these “guardrails” depend heavily on the user. The promise of anonymity has its drawbacks, providing a layer of pseudo-safety, and YikYak quickly became a platform for cyberbullying. 

YikYak was shut down in 2017 after being banned on many campuses for various “indiscretions” ranging from sexual assault allegations to bomb threats. YikYak was hesitant to moderate comments and, though the app had a solid premise and interested audience, there was very little change to the platform. In YikYak’s absence, apps like After School, Whisper, Nearby and more popped up, but many suffered the same fate of becoming banned. 

“We’re committed to making YikYak a fun place free of bullying, threats and all sort of negativity,” co-founders of YikYak Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington said. In a joint 2017 statement, Droll and Buffington spoke on how building the app was stressful, as they wanted it to keep its original purpose, but also narrow the playing field for cyberbullying and harassment. This is a difficult and delicate balance to achieve, especially when the target audience is trying to rebuild its community after the separation and stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

YikYak is back on the app store at a time where misinformation and “embellished” statements are common. The app was evidently revamped for its 2021 return in order to keep it safer and put under new management. The only name of the new management that has been released is the CEO Corey Cleek. These new “secretive” developers, whose names have never been made public were set on reviving the app as they “believe the global community deserves a place to be authentic, a place to be equal, and a place to connect with people nearby.” Users are now required to input their phone number upon downloading the app, mental health resources are provided, there is a fairly extensive onboarding guide and bullies can be permanently banned after one offense.

Regardless of the app’s intent, at Shippensburg University, YikYak’s popularity seems to be expanding every day for better or for worse. Students can lightheartedly commiserate about two-hour delays, food lines and other small campus inconveniences. YikYak is also a way to connect with people from different backgrounds or find people on campus who understand certain issues that their friends or acquaintances may not. The platform is also an excellent way to get opinions on different issues on campus or spread the word about an event or situation. 

While it is undoubtedly a great way of keeping students connected and sharing inside jokes, it is also opening the door for intense, drawn-out jabs at certain students and groups. Maybe we are all talking to each other, but when we are talking as a whole against an individual certain person, that can be incredibly isolating. The viewer may never find out who the commenter is, leaving them to wonder who has seen them and thought something that mean spirited. The effects of someone’s negative comment or comments can take a severe toll on another student’s mental health.

Additionally, there have been many instances of commenters making serious claims against other students using full names. These are very serious concerns, and if they are not valid, this is a harmful thing to do to someone’s reputation, which border on defamation. 

If something is said about you on YikYak, you may personally report it or just hope that it received enough “downvotes” to be removed from the app. YikYak does have bullying policies, but there is little moderation. What is posted on the app is up to the integrity of the individual and their “herd” (those within the five mile radius), and this can blur the line between what humor and harassment are. This can make for a truly dangerous environment information-wise.

In a time in which other people’s opinions are so available to everyone else, it is vital that we all consider what happenings, opinions and thoughts we are putting out into the world on the internet. There is a growing sense of apathy surrounding what is said on the internet, but we all have to remember that words do carry weight for those who are on the receiving end. Though YikYak is not an app everyone has, or an app everyone will always use, some sentiments hang on forever. The campus can anonymously have fun together, but before posting, consider your audience and what message you would truly like to project.

Mental health support resources are available on campus through the Etter Counseling Center, reachable by phone at (717) 477-1481, and the PAGE Center. 


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